You may already have a list of prospective lawyers. Before you go any further, take a few more minutes to make sure that you are looking for the right kind of lawyer. There are all kinds of lawyers who practice in the insurance area. As some general guidelines, keep in mind the following:
- If you're fighting with your own carrier to establish coverage, you may want a lawyer in one of the following areas of expertise:
- A "bad faith" lawyer if your own insurance company has denied insuring you or has turned down a claim that you have submitted
- A personal injury lawyer if you are dealing with uninsured motorist insurance on a claim where you were injured
- A workers' compensation lawyer if you were injured on the job
- A social security or disability lawyer if you are filing a claim for benefits under Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs
- If you're fighting with someone else's insurance company, you may want to hire:
- A personal injury lawyer if you have been injured by a third party
- A malpractice lawyer if you are dealing with a professional negligence issue
- A workers' compensation lawyer if you were hurt on the job
- If you already have a lawyer, you may want to check with that lawyer first on any of these kinds of issues. In many instances, he or she will have the necessary expertise to at least get the ball rolling on your situation and to help you with the decision-making process.
If you know what kind of lawyer you need, find out every thing you can about the lawyers and then do some initial screening to whittle down your list to three or four prospective candidates:
- Look at the biographies and Web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area of business law that you need? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?
- Lawyers who represent insurance companies generally don't represent consumers with problems in this area. So if you're a borrower or a consumer, look at the profile for the lawyer and his or her firm to see whom they primarily represent. If you can't tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
- Look for a list of representative clients. Are they the types of clients that you would want your lawyer representing? Does the lawyer represent other businesses or people in situations similar to yours?
- Search the Internet under the name of the lawyer and his or her law firm. Can you find any articles, FAQs or other informational pieces that the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort?
- Ask other people if they have heard of the lawyers and what they think about them
- Contact your state bar association or go to their Web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
- Check out the archives of your local newspaper. Has there been any publicity about the lawyer or the cases that he or she has handled?
- You'll probably want to hire a lawyer with at least a few years of experience
- Look to see if a lawyer is affiliated with associations that cater to your legal issues. For example, many bar associations have sections in insurance law and other related categories
- Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office
- Before you hire a lawyer, ask for references. You would want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the lawyer's representative clients.
- Ask about conflicts of interest. Does the lawyer represent any opposing parties?
- Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials that the firm may have. Crosscheck these materials against your other sources and references.
- Ask to be provided with a copy of the lawyer's retainer agreement and have it explained to you before decide on retaining the lawyer or the lawyer's law firm. You may end up paying a lot of money to the lawyer you hire, so make sure you understand what you're signing up for.
Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from a lawyer who speaks a language other than English?
There are basically two types of lawyers: those who handle lawsuits (called litigators) and those who primarily handle contract matters (called transactional lawyers). Some lawyers do both, but most of them tend to specialize in one area or the other.If you're involved in a lawsuit or may end up in one, look for a litigator. Otherwise, a lawyer who handles transactions may be your best bet.
Taking on an insurance company is a formidable task. It's sometimes hard for consumers to find legal representation in this area if you've been sued by or if you are looking to bring a lawsuit against an insurance company, because any of them can usually afford to hire good lawyers to fight you. So the best chance you may have for effective legal representation is if there are consumer protection statutes that you can rely on (for example, "bad faith" statutes). Such laws may help to tip the scales more in your favor.
If your problem doesn't involve a lot of money, consider whether other folks have the same issues. If so, you may be able to pool your interests and hire the same lawyer. Or, you may be able to talk to a lawyer who specializes in class action lawsuits. A key here is that the "class" has to be large enough to make it worthwhile for a lawyer to take the case.
Compare backgrounds and experience. Use your common sense and gut instincts to evaluate the remaining lawyers on your list. You'll want to be comfortable with the lawyer you hire. You want to choose the best lawyer who you think you can afford who is experienced, competent, and willing to communicate. Prioritize your choices and start making some telephone calls to set up meetings with several lawyers to interview them.